Saturday, 31 January 2009

THE BOARD OF DEPUTIES OF BRITISH JEWS AND THE BURTON BOOK

In his review [in the January 2009 Newsletter of the Jewish Historical Society of England] of my volume of essays Controversy and Crisis: Studies in the History of the Jews in Modern Britain (Academic Studies Press, 2008), Mr Raphael Langham discusses my account of a protracted dialogue that I had with the Board of Deputies of British Jews in the years 1985-88 stemming from my request to examine the so-called “Burton Book.” This document – an unpublished manuscript penned by the Victorian explorer Captain Sir Richard Burton, alleging that Jews used Christian blood for ritual purposes – had been purchased by the Board almost exactly one hundred years ago. Historians had not hitherto been granted access to it. In 1986 the incoming President of the Board, Dr Lionel Kopelowitz, wrote to me granting me permission to consult it. But almost at once this access was blocked, on grounds that had nothing to do with the manuscript, but which were related instead to public utterances I had made on other issues, and to which the senior leadership of the Board apparently took exception. In 1988 I was at last granted access, but only after I had, at Dr Kopelowitz’s request, agreed to keep silent about a quite unrelated communal matter.

Dr Kopelowitz may have forgotten that on 20 May 1988, as president of the Board, he wrote to me setting out precisely such a proviso.

A scan of this letter may be accessed at:

http://www.geoffreyalderman.com/pdf/Kopletter20May1988.pdf

I reproduce it now in the interests of historical accuracy and to set the record absolutely straight.

The history of “The Burton Book” is recounted by Professor Colin Holmes and me in our article of the same name in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, January 2008.

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